Corporate Education Reform Continues to Lose Conservative Intellectuals

Many conservative republicans are considering the once unthinkable: The Bush’s were wrong about education.

President George W. Bush with No Child Let Behind and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush with his corporate financed foundations are more responsible that anyone for imposing today’s education reforms that are anchored in test data. The two enjoyed total buy-in by members of their own party; and Jeb Bush, has garnered support from Democrats for his school choice agenda.

Those heady wine days are over. Conservative intellectuals are taking notice and applying some long needed skepticism.

Writing in the conservative website Pajamas Media, author Robert Zurbin takes a look at Colorado’s school grade system and doesn’t like what he sees.

So, does this testing data, acquired at great expense in money and class time, tell us which schools are doing their job and which are performing poorly? Not at all. Rather, what really jumps out of the data is the extremely strong relationship between school rank and student family income……

Instead of terrorizing schools with punitive, time-devouring tests we should be trying to help them. The vast sums now being wasted nationwide on the Bush-Obama federally mandated mass testing programs and their accompanying armies of whip-snapping bureaucrats and overpaid bandit consultants could be better spent on initiatives that actually contribute to education. Instead of being drilled into dullness to meet the quotas of educational commissars, students need to have their minds enlivened with science fairs and Shakespeare fairs, history reenactments, and debates on great issues.

America’s schools have many problems. The government could help them a lot – by enacting policies that encourage economic growth and opportunity, and thereby incentivize learning. But the last thing they need is a bureaucratic inquisition that drives away talent, centralizes power, misappropriates resources, punishes dedication, suppresses initiative, narrows learning, and eliminates thought.

Zurbin sounds as if he opposes Common Core as well, doesn’t he? Consider this from Heartland Institute scholar Joy Pullman in her piece on Common Core’s public outreach.

The federal government is paying to promote controversial testing and curriculum mandates called Common Core, and so are a collection of big-name private foundations and states. They are employing a number of strategies, but topping the list is training pro-Common Core teachers to multiply their support and hiring professional communications teams.

The federal government has provided all the operating funds—$330 million total—for two groups that will roll out national tests in spring 2015. These are the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced (SBAC). Together, the groups’ proposed budgets submitted to the federal government indicated they would spend almost $5.5 million in taxpayer dollars to convince taxpayers their money has been well spent and should continue once the federal funds dry up in September 2014. Later documents show PARCC and SBAC have upped that amount to at least $9.9 million.

American Enterprise Institute scholar Rick Hess has been critical of Jeb Bush for what seems his unwillingness to defend Common Core which he encouraged republican governors to accept. Hess is a supporter of Bush’s school choice philosophy and so is the CATO Institute. But a CATO education scholar recently was critical of the federal school voucher program that his foundation authored. Jeb Bush’s Florida ally Sen. Marco Rubio first advanced the proposal last year. Writes Andrew Coulson:

…Senators Lamar Alexander and Tim Scott have proposed taking federal education funding and voucherizing it, allowing it to follow students to the schools of their choice, public or private. The goal of these plans is to expand families’ educational options and raise quality through competition and choice. Surely a worthy goal. But equally surely, federal education programs generally fail to achieve their goals. So it is essential to evaluate every proposal on its merits, using the best evidence available.

Senator Alexander’s plan is by far the larger of the two federal voucher proposals. It would serve up to 11 million low-income students—one out of every 5 public school students in the country. Do we have any examples of what happens when national governments start paying for private schooling? Indeed we do. There are numerous such cases in the 2,500 year history of formal schooling, and there are several programs around the world currently operating in this way. The lesson of those programs is very clear: government funding brings government control and cartellization, undermining the very independence and competition that gives private sector education its advantage.

What is especially pernicious about this effect at the national level is that every regulation affects every school in the country—there is nowhere for families to turn to escape an encroaching regulatory tide.

CATO has their credibility invested in school choice legislation won’t apply Coulson’s standard that “government funding brings government control and cartellization” to state capitals as well. Not yet anyway. One only needs to look at Florida’s charter school cartel, McCay scholarship abuse and voucher schools teaching creationism for examples of why CATO’s school choice fetish has serious flaws.

Even a key member of Florida’s charter school cartel, Charter Schools USA CEO Jonathan Hage, understands the difficult landscape that his side must navigate. Speaking at a National School Choice Week event in Florida Hage admitted that “we’re in for a “50-to-100-year battle,” Hage said. “Education is one of those things that’s going to be state by state, and it’s going to be much harder work.”

Maybe the best news for the nation’s schools is that it’s become clear that the Bush brothers will no longer have their education reforms rubber-stamped without skepticism any longer from members of their own party. Moreover, conservative intellectuals who drive debate are taking a hard look, too.


About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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One Response to Corporate Education Reform Continues to Lose Conservative Intellectuals

  1. weavergrace says:

    This looks like a good place for me to moan about the schools (up North here) being closed for snow days, but open for standardized exams regardless of the weather. Testing is more important than teaching?

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